Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is Posse Comitatus Dead?

Why are there active duty soldiers stationed on U.S. soil?

On October 8, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman reported:

In a barely noticed development last week, the Army stationed an active unit inside the United States. The Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Team is back from Iraq, now training for domestic operations under the control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command. The unit will serve as an on-call federal response for large-scale emergencies and disasters. It's being called the Consequence Management Response Force (CCMRF).

If the name isn't ominous enough, consider that until President Bush signed the John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2006, it was illegal under the Posse Comitatus Act to use any part of the Army or Air Force as a "posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws" except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or act of Congress. The intent of the Posse Comitatus Act was to prevent the use of the military to enforce police-state powers.

But according to a press release issued by USNORTHCOM, the CCMRF would not engage in any law enforcement. Instead, the unit is a team of about 4,700 joint personnel that would deploy as the Department of Defense's initial response force for a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) incident, the Army said. Its capabilities include search and rescue, decontamination, medical, aviation, communications and logistical support.

The Army's 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, recently returned from Iraq, will form the core unit of Task Force Operations from its base of operations at Fort Stewart, Ga. The October deployment is the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to USNORTHCOM, which was itself formed in October 2002 to "provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts."

Northern Command states: "This response force will not be called upon to help with law enforcement, civil disturbance or crowd control."

In a subsequent interview with Democracy Now!, Colonel Michael Boatner, the future operations division chief of USNORTHCOM, emphasized this point.

“We are not allowed to help enforce the law. We don't do that,” said Col. Boatner. “…[I]f we review the requirement that comes to us from civil authority and it has any complexion of law enforcement whatsoever, it gets rejected and pushed back, because it's not lawful.”

But that assertion has done little to satisfy critics of the new initiative, like The Progressive's Matthew Rothschild, who say the very fact that USNORTHCOM picked a battle hardened unit for the new deployment seems to undercut the claim that it will not engage in law enforcement.

"Let's look at what it's trained for,” said Rothschild, who appeared with Col. Boatner on Democracy Now! “This is the 3rd Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat unit that has spent three of the last five years in Iraq in counterinsurgency. It's a war-fighting unit, was one of the first units to Baghdad. It was involved in the battle of Fallujah. And, you know, that's what they've been trained to do. And now they're bringing that training here?”